Review: The Copperhead (City Lit Theater)

   
  

This ‘copperhead’ is worth every penny

 
 

The Copperhead - City Lit Theatre Chicago

  
City Lit Theater presents
 
The Copperhead
  
Written by Augustus Thomas
Directed by Kathy Scambiattera
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $18-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

While Chekhov was over in Russia writing about social upheaval, Augustus Thomas was stateside dipping into the American experience and crafting similar pieces of realism. The demise of the old aristocracy inspired Chekhov; Reconstruction and the economic decimation of the South following the Civil War instigated Thomas’ plays. Once proclaimed as the best playwright in the nation, Thomas has faded into obscurity over the last century. Watching City Lit Theater’s solid production of his most successful play, 1918’s The Copperhead, I was struck by how well-wrought Thomas’ style seems even today. Maybe director Kathy Scambiatterra’s show will kickstart interest in one of America’s original voices.

The Copperhead - City Lit Theatre Chicago 2The Copperhead is part of City Lit’s “Civil War Project,” a five-year theatrical exploration of the Civil War. Thomas sets his drama in southern Illinois, close to the border of the Confederacy. The play centers around Milt Shanks (Mark Pracht), a Southern sympathizer, claiming he wants peace above all else. In the Land of Lincoln, that doesn’t go down well. He earns the ire of his family and community, even going to prison for his murky connections to the Rebel cause. The second half of the play is set 40 years after Appomattox, and the beliefs Shanks’ held during the war are still affecting him and his descendants.

Unlike many of his peers, Thomas completely shuns melodrama. There’s a subtle pressure and conflict that flows throughout the play. Social roles and appearances run the world, just like with Ibsen or Strindberg. What people believe is as important as what people do.

Scambiatterra elicits great performances from her strappy cast. Pracht does a fine job with the austere Shanks, remaining strong and level, while still revealing glimpses of vulnerability – we know he is still a human being in a crazy situation. The real gem in the production is Kate Tummelson, who plays Shanks’ wife in the first half and his devoted granddaughter in the second. She really drives every scene she is a part of, scrounging up independence in a time where there was very little to be had for women. As Ma Shanks, she is torn by her devotion to her son, her husband, and her country. As Madeline, she has to look out for her grandfather and her own future. Another great performance is given by Judith Hoppe as the high-spirited Grandma Pearly, who constantly talks about how war takes a toll on women.

Thomas’ writing holds up surprisingly well. Scambiaterra finds loads of humor in the script—Pracht as the older Milt mines plenty of elderly jokes. And the cast finds layers with every character; there are unspoken ethos guiding every actor on stage.

The plays runs along pretty well, but the ending ties the show together a bit too neatly. It becomes like some sort of 19th-century James Bond flick. I was hoping for something more like Chekhov, where the house lights come up leaving the audience with unanswered questions and some moral ambiguity. But Thomas taps into good ol’ American sentimentality, breaking apart complexities he spends four acts building up.

City Lit brings an honest, down-the-line approach to the script. The Copperhead can feel a bit archaic, but never wooden. It’s great to see such an old play with a local connection being done here. Thomas will never have the name recognition or acclaim of Chekhov, and he seems afraid to dive as deep into darker territory. However, his play remains relevant to any culture familiar with war. The Civil War Project is a fascinating idea, and I hope they can keep churning out work like this.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The Copperhead poster - City Lit Theater Chicago

  
  

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Review: Infusion Theatre’s “Intrigue With Faye”

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyoneProduction: Intrigue With Faye
Producers: Infusion Theatre

Set-up: Intrigue With Faye explores the intimate world of an urban couple whe reach an impasse in their relationship when an infidelity is revealed.  Determined to repair their broken trust, documentary filmmaker Kean proposes to therapist Lissa that they videotape their every move.  Through this videotaping and self-analyzing and reflection, the couple attempts to heal the mistrust and co-dependency that pervades their relationship. 

StrengthsIntruge With Faye’s video effects are pretty cool.  The two leads, Steve O’Connell as Kean and Kate Tummelson as Lissa are gifted actors, and it’s notable that – depsite the fact that Tummelson is the understudy – you never would have known it.  Mitch Golob’s directing skills are adeptly displayed by his ability to keep the production’s focus directly on the two leads, despite the surrounding multimedia bells-and-whistles.   

Weaknesses: Though O’Connell and Tummelson do an exemplary job with their roles, this unfortunately does not allay the fact that their characters are quite uninteresting, especially once they plunge into the seemingly endless videotaping and sef-analyzing imbroglio.  Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the most piquant roles in Intrigue With Faye. 

Summary: This Infusion Theatre Company, now in it’s second year, has set out for itself a very valient and exciting mission: bringing in a new audience of theatre goers through the use of multi-media in telling its stories on stage. Though InFusion’s multi-media themed productions are a breath of fresh air towards Chicago theatre’s pursuit of a wider audience, Intrigue With Faye does not prove to be the best material towards this endeavor.  Slightly recommended.

Rating: ««½

 

Production:

Intrigue With Faye

Playwright:

Kate Robin

Director:

Mitch Golob

Featuring:

Steve O’Connell (Kean), Leah Nuetzel (Lissa), Kate Tummelson (Lissa – understudy), James Farrugio (Frank), Dan Flannery and Marueen Tolman Flannery (married couple), Callie Munson (Tina), Kevin Stark (male patient) and Leah Wagner (Faye)

Design Team:

Lucas Merino (Video Design), Chelsea Meyers (Scenic Design), Michael Smallwood (Lighting Design), Scotty Iseri (Sound Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), James Gibson (Props Design)

Technical Team:

Bridgette O’Connor (Assistant Director, Production Manager), Tara Malpass (Stage Manager), Jamie Bragg (Dramaturg), Blair Robertson (Casting Director)

Coming next:

Midwest premiere of Rhymes With Evil (Oct 16 –Nov 23)

More info:

www.InfusionTheatre.com

 

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) by checking the mail, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by Kate Robin of “Six Feet Under”.

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by “Six Feet Under’s” Kate Robin, running April 17 – June 1, 2008, at the Royal George Theatre Gallery Space, 1641 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.  Tickets at 312-988-9000, and info at www.infusiontheatre.com  Photo by Johnny Knight.

Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone